Volunteers steer roadside clean-up in Thompson

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Thompson - posted Tue., Apr. 26, 2011
(L-r) Carolyn Werge and Kathy Hiatt pick up trash from the side of the road. Photos by Denise Coffey.
(L-r) Carolyn Werge and Kathy Hiatt pick up trash from the side of the road. Photos by Denise Coffey.

Norma O’Leary isn’t one to wait for someone to do something for her. Nine years ago, when a grant from the Thompson Ecumenical Empowerment Group brought town residents together, O’Leary helped found the Thompson Together Environment Committee.

“Many of us sit back and grumble that the selectman hasn’t done this or the selectman hasn’t done that. We can’t always depend on our leaders to do everything. We, as a community, have a responsibility, and if there’s something that we see that needs to be done, then we better get our act together and do it,” she said.

With the help of several residents, O’Leary started the Thompson roadside clean-up during the month of April. It’s an excellent time of year to see litter clearly, the poison ivy hasn’t grown in, and Earth Day is celebrated in April.

She divided the town’s 125 miles of roads into eight sections, using the snow plow routes from the Public Works Department. “I took the plow routes and called eight captains,” O’Leary said. “I gave them each an area. They called their neighbors. Each year we found more and more people willing to help out. I got out the voters list and found out who lived where. We called them.”

Not everyone can help in the same way.

“Everyone has a different schedule,” O’Leary said. “Everyone has a different way of life, so whatever fits into their schedule, we encourage them to do it in April. If they wish to do it in October, that’s fine, too.”

O’Leary finds that most people are pleased to be a part of the clean-up. It brings pride to the community, she said.

O’Leary is used to hard work. She married at 18 and was a dairy farmer with her husband. She was active in agricultural organizations all her life. For 16 years she served as president of Connecticut Farm Bureau. When she retired from that position in 1997, she decided she wanted to help her community. This is her ninth year of overseeing the litter pick-up campaign.

“We encourage anyone to go for a walk,” she said. “Health experts say it's great exercise. Some roads are narrow. But we encourage everyone to go out and at least clean up in front of their own homes.”

Norma’s daughter, Kathy O’Leary, was picking up trash just a few hundred feet down the road from her mother. She collected plastic cups and pieces of paper and bottles she found along the side of the road. She climbed down near a small stream to pick up the trash that had found its way there.

“I’ve been retrained in my brain to look for garbage,” she said. “If people just took their garbage home, there wouldn’t be this garbage on the sides of the roads. People should be more aware of what we leave in the environment and what goes into the water table.”

Volunteer Paula West drove by and stopped to ask a question. She would like to see more people covering their dump loads when they go to the transfer station. “When they don’t have covers, a lot of stuff flies off the back,” she said.

The volunteers found a lot of fast food containers, Styrofoam cups, bottles and cans. O’Leary made $30 last year with bottles and cans. “It pays off in many ways,” she said. “But just don’t pick up the nickels. Pick up the rest of the trash, too.”

Bob and Carolyn Werge were captains of the Wilsonville Road section. They were cleaning Wilsonville Road east of Route 395 with volunteers Kathy and Joel Hiatt. Bags of trash dotted the road where they had already walked. Wilsonville Road is one of the worst roads to clean up in town, according to Bob Werge. Exit 100 leads directly onto it from the highway. And Pasay Road, with the transfer station, sees its share of debris.

“It’s already been cleaned up once this month by Marge Woodard,” Bob Werge said. “She’s one of the unsung heroes.” He scouted the side of the road, taking care of cars passing by. He stabbed a plastic drink lid and coffee cup. He left a banana peel on the side of the road. “They’re biodegradable,” he said. “I leave anything that the Lord will take care of.”

“I would like to think that the people of Thompson wouldn’t be littering the roads in Thompson,” Werge’s wife, Carolyn, said.

Kathy Hiatt has been volunteering for years and finds it rewarding. “It’s good for your soul and you sleep good at night,” she said.

O’Leary and her crew have been trying to persuade people to clean up in front of their houses. If people could just clean up the front of their own property, Werge said, it would make it easier for everyone - and cleaner, too.

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